Catholic agency hopes to reach 70,000 needy children with 'Box of Joy'

A Haitian child is seen during a "Box of Joy" distribution in 2016 at the St. Jean Baptiste, Christ the King Parish School in Haiti. Florida-based Cross Catholic Outreach hopes to serve more than 70,000 children in five countries with its Christmas project this year. (CNS photo/courtesy Cross Catholic Outreach)

BOCA RATON, Fla. (CNS) -- When an individual, a family, a group or a church wants to pack a small box of Christmas joy for a needy child, "we tell them 'welcome to the world of joy,' because everyone who gives joy receives joy in return," said the president of Cross Catholic Outreach in Boca Raton.

Jim Cavnar spoke about the agency's "Box of Joy" program, now in its fifth year, in a Q-and-A provided to news media.

Those who get involved in the program choose a recipient by age (from 2-14) and by gender, and then pack small items for that child in a shoebox-size box. Items can include small toys like dolls and race cars, essentials like soap, pencils, toothpaste and toothbrushes, as well as a few treats like hard candy and coloring books.

Participants include $9 in each box to cover $7 shipping and $2 to support the ministries of those working with the children, who are in Haiti, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic and, as of this year, El Salvador.

Cross Catholic Outreach provides suggestions for items to buy at the website The site also has information about the nearest drop-off center for participants. If people get involved as a group, someone is designated as project leader and that person provides drop-off/collection details to group members.

The "Box of Joy" week for dropping off the boxes is Nov. 3-11 this year. Cross Catholic Outreach then delivers the boxes to the children.

The site also offers a Create-A-Box-Online option for those who want to participate but don’t have time to go shopping. By clicking on that option, they can ask that a box be packed and shipped to a child on their behalf.

The pilot "Box of Joy" program in 2014 began with just a handful of parishes and schools in two U.S. dioceses that provided Christmas boxes to children in Guatemala, Cavnar said. This year, close to 520 parishes in dioceses across the country are participating.

"We piloted in eight states in 2015 and went nationwide in 2016," he said. "Last year, 46,360 children in Haiti, Guatemala, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic were blessed with 'Boxes of Joy.' This year we hope to reach 70,000 kids and also serve children in El Salvador. ... The growth and involvement amaze us."

Asked whether sending toys to children in dire poverty is really the best way to help them, Cavnar said it is, because "that box is part of a broader response of love."

"Cross Catholic Outreach, through our network of local partners, responds to emergency needs and addresses root causes of extreme poverty," he explained. "But for a child who has never received a gift, what better way to combat hopelessness than with a message of hope and love?"

The "Box of Joy" program doesn't replace other aid, he said. "It enhances it."

"By sending a box of small gifts, it is a good reminder of the strangers who gave our baby Jesus gifts at his birth, who wanted to love him the best they could and gave what they had for his enjoyment," he added.